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Google: Gaming on Gaza
HonestReporting's social media editor, Alex Margolin, contributes occasional posts on social media issues. He oversees HonestReporting on Facebook.
It’s no secret that social media is sweeping through the Arab world. Studies show that more people from Arab countries are members of Facebook than readers of print newspapers, especially those run by oppressive governments.
But when it comes to overall Internet use, the Palestinians have pulled ahead of the pack.
West Bank entrepreneurs effectively use the Internet for business, and social activists trying to organize in Gaza are finding ways to escape the watchful eye of Hamas. As the Wall Street Journal (click through Google News) notes, even an Internet giant like Google was interested enough to meet with Palestinian programmers for three days. David Tafuri writes:
While the West Bank and Gaza have suffered from wars, political instability and limited access to resources, the Web has proliferated. Internet penetration—the percentage of the population that uses the Web—is estimated at 40% in the West Bank and as high as 60% in Gaza. Both figures are higher than those in many other Arab nations.
One reason is the proximity of the Palestinian territories to Israel, which is the region's leader in Internet development. Another factor is the high rate of literacy in the territories, estimated at 92%. Perhaps most significant, however, is that Palestinians' isolation—and inability to travel and import or export goods—means that the Web is their main way to connect with the outside world.
According to Tafuri, Google believes Gaza is ripe for Internet innovation because so many other channels are closed to the residents. The company hopes to return in the near future with other Silicon Valley companies, like Facebook, Twitter, and Cisco.
Interestingly, Tafuri also suggests that the rise of Internet use could help ease tensions in the region, implying that economic considerations could trump the "armed struggle" among Palestinians:
Internet use is increasingly linking young Palestinians to economic opportunities and information, transcending borders and blockades.
It'll be worth watching to see how online engagement with the outside world effects Palestinian public opinion. Will internal Palestinian propaganda have as much effect if their youths tune out the official channels to get information elsewhere?
Google may be betting on a period of increased stability in the region. But judging from past results, a vote of confidence from Google is no guarantee of success in the future.
Previously in Alex's series: Why Facebook Will Continue to Vex the IDF
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